Thursday, April 21, 2011

Observing a Prayer Book Good Friday

By Robin G. Jordan

“The title” of Good Friday, Charles Neil and J. M. Willoughby in The Tutorial Prayer Book informs us, “is peculiar to the Church of England. They go on to write, “There is a particular fitness in the English title, both positively, as recognizing the joyous emancipation of the believer through the finished work of the Cross, and negatively as a protest against the superstitious branding of all Fridays, and this one in particular as ‘unlucky,’ a superstition … traceable without much difficulty to the mistaken ideas which tended to fill the day with the external pomp of a funereal gloom.”

Neil and Willoughby makes this very important point:

Easter having been in very early times as a great day for public baptism, it is not surprising that the solemnity of the events immediately preceding Easter should be seized upon as an occasion for heart-searching preparations. Such commendable reverence has nothing in common with Medieval customs, e.g., Creeping to the Cross, The Mass of the Pre-Sanctified, Stripping of the Altars, Singing of the ‘Reproaches.’ Apart from the doctrinal errors associated with such practices, there is danger of obscuring the great lesson which alone justifies the observance of Good Friday, viz. that ‘with His stripes we are healed,’ not plunged into gloom. The hymnology of Reformed Christianity is not free from the same danger, not infrequently overstepping the bounds of reverential awe, and so tending to reproduce the blindness of those who wept for Christ when their own desperate condition alone called for tears!
Charles H. H. Wright and Charles Neil in their article, “Good Friday,” in A Protestant Dictionary note how Medieval superstition, revived by the nineteenth century Ritualists, had come to dominate the observance of Good Friday in 1904.

It is strange that it has now become unusual to have the Lord’s Supper administered on Good Friday, although St. Chrysostom mentions consecrating on that day, and it was general in the Church of England up to very recent times. The mass doctors say that as Christ is there Himself offering sacrifice the Church should forbear from doing so. But such an argument would surely tell in favour of the abolition of all such pretended sacrifices. The Church of England provides special Collects, Epistle and Gospel for the day, and the religious observance of Good Friday, apart from superstition, seems proper and desirable.
As Neil and Willoughby note in The Tutorial Prayer Book, the Epistles and Gospels are appointed for use exclusively in connection with the Communion Office.

Morning Prayer, Litany, Holy Communion, and Evening Prayer is the classical Anglican pattern for the observance of holy days as well as Sundays and the great feasts of the Church. A genuine Prayer Book observance of Good Friday would involve all four. This would include the saying or singing of the Te Deum laudamus at Morning Prayer and the Gloria in excelsis after the Post-Communion Thanksgivings at the Holy Communion. The 1662 Prayer Book does not prohibit the use of the Te Deum laudamus in Lent and Holy Week. The Benedicite omnia Opera may be substituted for the Te Deum laudamus at any time of the year. Both are ancient hymns of praise. The Benedicite omnia Opera is particularly appropriate for Septuagesima Sunday and the first Sunday after Trinity. The 1662 Prayer Book makes no provision for the omission of the Gloria in excelsis during Lent and Holy Week and none was intended.

The celebration of the Holy Communion on Good Friday may be disconcerting to North American Anglicans who have grown accustomed to the Good Friday observances such as the Way of the Cross that the nineteenth century Ritualists introduced. Good Friday, however, is a day for the joyous recollection of all that Christ accomplished on the cross. He made there, in the words of the 1662 Prayer of Consecration—“by his one oblation of himself once offered—a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole word.” Christ bore our sins upon the cross and opened to us the way of salvation. It is certainly not a day to allow Medieval superstition keep us from celebrating the Lord’s Supper that Christ “did institute and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again.”